Not even the salmon strong enough to battle Missouri River’s powerPIERRE — The incredibly heavy flows of water that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent flooding through the Missouri River dams this summer appear to have carried a lot of salmon downstream, too.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — The incredibly heavy flows of water that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent flooding through the Missouri River dams this summer appear to have carried a lot of salmon downstream, too.
The concern now is what might have happened to the populations of baitfish such as smelt that provide an important food source for prized game-fish such as walleye, northern pike and salmon.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission received a presentation on the current status of Lake Oahe’s salmon population Friday from one of the department’s fisheries biologists, Robert Hanten.
During the discussion, commissioner John Cooper, of Pierre, a former state secretary of game, fish and parks, strongly suggested the department put together an analysis of the baitfish populations currently and provide a comparison to three years ago.
Cooper said the situation could be similar to what happened in 1997 when the smelt population was severely diminished because the corps had to release large volumes of water for weeks on end.
He told Hanten it would be good to get on it “the soonest you can” because it would have “a huge usefulness” in explaining to anglers and the general public what might be ahead, such as game fish losing weight and growing slowly.
He said Lake Oahe already has lost a lot of its gizzard shad, another baitfish species.
“That’s what’s on people’s minds right now: Are we going to suffer some issues?” Cooper said. “They’re craving that info.”
Hanten said creel surveys indicate that 524 salmon were caught by anglers on Lake Oahe during 2011’s main fishing season. In 2010, the same methods indicated anglers took 8,429, or some 15 times as many.
Hanten said a comparison of fishing hours hasn’t been made yet for the two years. But, he said, there clearly was less success. “In general, I think anglers had a tough time locating salmon,” he said.
Salmon don’t naturally reproduce in Lake Oahe. Instead, eggs are collected from adult female salmon taken from the Missouri River, then the eggs are fertilized at a state hatchery and raised until they’re about as long as a man’s palm is wide. At that point they’re stocked in Oahe again.